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How bathroom graffiti inspired this Jewish comedian and singer

(New York Jewish Week) — The graffiti scrawled on public bathroom walls may not seem like the highest form of art. But for Jewish comedian and musician Caitlin Cook, a particular phrase she saw on a bathroom stall became the catalyst for a decade of creative inventiveness. 

Since writing on bathroom walls is neither for critical acclaim nor financial reward,” it read, “it is the purest form of art. Discuss.”

“I just knew that this was something I did want to discuss,” Cook told the New York Jewish Week. “I love art history, I love found art, and I loved the way that [graffiti] broke down the idea of what art is and can be. So, I started photographing bathroom graffiti all over the place.” 

A few years later, Cook realized she could turn her extensive collection of found phrases into lyrics for songs. And then, after a few more years, she figured out a way to project the original bathroom images behind her as she sang her songs. The project then developed into a one-person musical, “The Writing on the Stall,” which is playing at the Soho Playhouse through Sept. 23. As implied by the title, the musical takes place entirely in a public bathroom; the song’ lyrics are almost entirely quotes from actual graffiti Cook found in restrooms across the globe. 

“I think everyone has seen something funny or sad written in the bathroom stall when they’ve sat down,” said Cook, adding that the show “really hits this universal human experience.”

Cook, 33, who moved to New York in 2016, grew up in Los Angeles, where she was raised by her parents and grandparents in a culturally Jewish but atheist home. “Both my grandparents were from very large families who escaped Poland and Belarus and grew up very poor in the Jewish tenements and in the Bronx, then moved to L.A. and made something of themselves,” she said. “My grandma would always say, ‘We’re Jewish, it’s very important that you know that, but we don’t believe in God because [the Holocaust] happened.’”

“I think that was a very common attitude for Jews in L.A.,” she continued. “As a result, I never went to Hebrew school and sometimes I feel like I’m not Jewish enough to be Jewish. Then, other times, I feel I am very Jewish.”

Cook addresses her complicated Jewish identity head-on in “The Writing on the Stall.” Early in the musical — after the show opens with Cook sitting on a toilet, asking the audience for some toilet paper — she talks about being a “Jewish atheist,” and the seemingly inherent contradiction therein.

“I come from a wonderful, creative family that really prioritized education, intellectualism and thinking beyond the surface level of things,” she told the New York Jewish Week, “That search for deep meaning feels very inherent to the way I experience Jewish identity.” 

To Cook, this Jewish instinct to sense a deeper message in something seemingly mundane is, essentially, how she came to find graffiti to be so profound in the first place. As an example, she cites a message — “Do what scares you, even if it’s everything” — she found in a stall. It became “part of my life philosophy,” Cook told the New York Jewish Week. “Putting myself outside of my comfort zone, exploring why I am the way that I am, dealing with fears and anxiety … of growing up as a Jewish person who’s always thinking beyond the surface level.”

The short musical (approximately 60 to 75 minutes, depending on audience participation) features songs like “The Difference,” which explores the types of graffiti found in men’s, women’s and non-gendered restrooms. “Girl, keep ya head up,” and “ Love like you’ve never been ghosted,” the women write, while men’s stalls feature lines like, “roses are tits, violets are tits,” and many, many drawings of genitalia. 

Another song, called “Conversations With Strangers,” depicts the unique interactions created when strangers answer one another’s contributions to bathroom graffiti. “Follow ur dreams,” one person scratched into a stall. Below it, in Sharpie, someone answers, “I literally only have nightmares.”

“There’s a song about confessional bathroom graffiti [in which] I confess some things about myself and get the audience to confess some secrets, while talking about how intimate bathrooms can be,” Cook said. “[The show also goes into] graffiti that bullies and the beautiful, poetic, sad, wonderful things that people have written.”

Cook, whose previous credits include New York Comedy Festival and SF Sketchfest, alongside iconic venues like The Comedy Cellar, crafted this version of “The Writing on the Stall” with the aid of two chief collaborators: Director A.J. Holmes, best known for his performance as Elder Cunningham in “The Book of Mormon,” and Ali Gordon, actor and alumna of the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

Cook and Holmes met at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where the two were performing at nearby theaters. (Cook was performing an earlier version of “The Writing on the Stall.”) “My immediate impression was that the songs crush,” Holmes told the New York Jewish Week. 

The duo brought Gordon on board, and they developed “The Writing on the Stall” so it touches on a larger message about finding beauty and meaning in the everyday. 

“It feels like everyone wants to hide in the friggin’ bathroom right now,” Gordon said. “Whether it’s on a political level or a personal level, everything has become too much of a mess, the desire to bury our heads in the sand is stronger than ever.”

“In the show, that’s what we find our hero doing — hiding from the party outside,” she continued.  “But the audience gets to see how she finds her way out …  instead of staying in a shame spiral and beating herself up, she finds beauty in the darkest corners. She uses that to shine a light for the rest of us.”

Cook agrees. “It’s a show about shared humanity and finding meaning in unexpected places,” she said. “It’s about sharing vulnerable stories and connecting with strangers unexpectedly, whether it’s writing something in conversation on the wall of a bathroom, or meeting in a bathroom line, or just sharing a little bit about who you are with someone at a bar.” 

“The Writing on the Stall” can be silly or salacious at times, but amid the projected images of crude drawings of genitals and cheery, if oversimplified, “you go, girl!” scrawls, Cook is trying to find answers to life’s big questions. She’s inviting audiences to connect with themselves and with one another by reaching out past the edge of the stage. She’s interested in who she is, certainly, but also in who we are to each other as members of a society that so often seems torn beyond repair. 

“The Writing on the Stall” is playing at Soho Playhouse (15 Vandam St.) Wednesdays through Saturdays through Sept. 23. Click here for tickets and info


The post How bathroom graffiti inspired this Jewish comedian and singer appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Jordan Reaffirms Commitment to Peace With Israel After Iran Attack, Says Ending Treaty Would Hurt Palestinians

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Al Safadi attends a press conference after a meeting on the Gaza situation in the government’s representation facility in Oslo, Norway, Dec. 15, 2023. Photo: NTB/Stian Lysberg Solum via REUTERS

Senior Jordanian officials recently reaffirmed the country’s commitment to maintaining peace with Israel, despite protests erupting across Jordan against their treaty amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

Pro-Hamas protesters have been actively campaigning to end the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, which the two countries signed in 1994 to end the state of war that had existed between them for decades and establish diplomatic relations. The treaty followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, a historic agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

However, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Al-Safadi said on Sunday that the peace deal was best for not only his country but also the Palestinians.

“The treaty actualized all our rights and served our interests. Revoking it would not be in Jordan’s or the Palestinians’ interest,” Al-Safadi told Jordan’s official news channel Al-Mamlaka in remarks flagged by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). “If we thought even for a moment that revoking it would be in the interest of Jordan or of the Palestinians, we would have done so without hesitation.”

Revoking the peace treaty, he continued, would “harm both Jordan and Palestine and greatly limit our ability to continue fulfilling our main and primary role in providing aid to the Palestinian people … The peace treaty is a source of strength for us and allows us to continue our role of aiding the Palestinian people while protecting our interests.”

Al-Safadi’s comments came one day after Jordan — along with the US, Britain, and France — helped Israel repel an unprecedented direct attack by Iran against the Israeli homeland. Iran fired over 300 drones and missiles at the Jewish state, nearly all of which were shot out of the air. Only one injury was reported in Israel.

The chief diplomat’s defense of the peace treaty also came amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which has fueled anti-Israel animus across Jordan. Thousands of protesters have been routinely gathering for weeks to lambast Israel, express solidarity with Hamas, and call for an end to the peace treaty. Al-Safadi addressed such opposition in his comments.

“We respect Jordanian public opinion,” he said. “Back in 1994, when [the treaty] was signed, it protected our interests. We regained all our occupied lands, and the treaty enshrined Jordan’s special role in administrating the places holy to Islam and to Christianity in Jerusalem. Were it not for this role, there would have been a vacuum, and Israel would have exploited this to impose its own sovereignty and administration on the holy places rather than granting them to the Palestinians.”

Al-Safadi wasn’t the only official to recently articulate Jordan’s commitment to the peace treaty amid calls to revoke it and mass anti-Israel protests over the Gaza war.

Jordan’s government spokesman, Muhannad Mubaidin, told Sky News Arabia late last month that Hamas was inciting the Jordanian people against their leadership. The Palestinian terrorist group and its supporters in Jordan, he said, were trying “to force Jordan to choose different options,” but “peace is our strategic choice and the peace treaty [with Israel] is what allows us to fulfill our role of easing the pressures on the people in the West Bank.”

MEMRI was first to report Mubaidin’s comments in English.

The post Jordan Reaffirms Commitment to Peace With Israel After Iran Attack, Says Ending Treaty Would Hurt Palestinians first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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US Stops UN From Recognizing a Palestinian State Through Membership

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks to members of the Security Council during a meeting to address the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question, at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, April 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The United States on Thursday effectively stopped the United Nations from recognizing a Palestinian state by casting a veto in the Security Council to deny the Palestinian Authority full membership of the world body.

The United States says an independent Palestinian state should be established through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and not through UN action.

It vetoed a draft resolution that recommended to the 193-member UN General Assembly that “the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations.” Britain and Switzerland abstained, while the remaining 12 council members voted yes.

The Palestinians are currently a non-member observer state, a recognition that was granted by the UN General Assembly in 2012. But an application to become a full UN member needs to be approved by the Security Council and then at least two-thirds of the General Assembly.

The Palestinian push for full UN membership comes six months into a war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and as Israel is expanding settlements in the West Bank.

“Recent escalations make it even more important to support good-faith efforts to find lasting peace between Israel and a fully independent, viable, and sovereign Palestinian state,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council earlier on Thursday.

“Failure to make progress towards a two-state solution will only increase volatility and risk for hundreds of millions of people across the region, who will continue to live under the constant threat of violence,” he said.

Israel‘s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said Palestinians failed to meet the criteria to become a full UN member, which he outlined as: a permanent population, defined territory, government, and capacity to enter relations with other states.

“Who is the council voting to ‘recognize’ and give full membership status to? Hamas in Gaza? The Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Nablus? Who?” Erdan asked the Security Council earlier on Thursday.

He said granting full UN membership to Palestinians “will have zero positive impact for any party, that will cause only destruction for years to come, and harm any chance for future dialogue.”

The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank. Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in Gaza in 2007.

Ziad Abu Amr, special envoy of Abbas, earlier asked the US: “How could this damage the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis? How could this recognition and this membership harm international peace and security?”

“Those who are trying to disrupt and hinder the adoption of such a resolution … are not helping the prospects of peace between Palestinians and Israelis and the prospects for peace in the Middle East in general,” he told the Security Council.

Abu Amr said full Palestinian UN membership was not an alternative for serious political negotiations to implement a two-state solution and resolve pending issues, adding: “However, this resolution will grant hope to the Palestinian people hope for a decent life within an independent state.”

The post US Stops UN From Recognizing a Palestinian State Through Membership first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left?

Jonathan L. Milevsky is an author and educator. Raphi Zaionz is the founder of mygoals Inc. Both live in Toronto, for the moment. (The latter’s children either have left or are planning to leave Canada.) Towards the end of the film Schindler’s List, there’s a scene in which the famous non-Jewish philanthropist, who saved over […]

The post The value of Jews to Canada today: What would the cost be if the community packed up and left? appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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